Open Letter to LVRPA re Lack of Community Engagement

Dear Shaun Dawson,

We are writing to express our ongoing dismay at the LVRPA’s continuing erosion of meaningful community engagement in the lower Lea Valley, particularly with regards to Walthamstow Marsh, Leyton Marsh and the Waterworks and Filter Beds Nature Reserve. We are copying in Michele Walde, because we think it important that Keep Britain Tidy is aware that the LVRPA is not fulfilling this important Green Flag criterion.

Back in 2012, the LVRPA met regularly with local people through the Walthamstow Marshes User Forum. The Forum meetings were well-attended, and allowed lively, free-flowing discussions about the issues of the day. By 2013, the Forum meetings had been replaced by Walthamstow Marshes Site Management Workshops, where LVRPA staff delivered presentations on issues they deemed pertinent and local people were allowed to ask questions at the end. These became increasingly infrequent and, by 2016, sit-down meetings had been replaced altogether with occasional ranger walkabouts, which are given a different name each time. While wandering about the marshes with the ranger is a legitimate activity, their sporadic nature and the fact that there are no records of the conversations means that issues raised are easily forgotten and the LVRPA is able to sidestep responding to real and continuing concerns raised by the local community about the way the marshes are managed.

2012 was a difficult year for the LVRPA’s relationship with the users of Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes, because of the way in which the LVRPA offered up large swathes of the marshes to the Olympics. Opposition to the LVRPA’s actions was vehemently expressed at meetings of the Walthamstow Marshes User Forum, and it is difficult not to conclude that the Forum was disbanded precisely because it was an effective way for local people to express their dissatisfaction with the LVRPA. Promises that Walthamstow Marshes Site Management Workshops would better enable the LVRPA and local people to work more closely on specific issues came to nothing. We remember the disappointment we felt when we attended a meeting at which we thought we would be looking at mowing regimes, discussing the evidence for and against the various options, only to have to sit through another ’this is what we have been doing’ presentation. And now even these presentations have been taken away from us.

The Walthamstow Marshes User Forum was generally well attended. It is, therefore, erroneous for the LVRPA to claim, as it has done in the past, that the User Forum and the Site Management Workshops were halted because of poor attendance. If numbers did dwindle, perhaps local people, realising that they weren’t being listened to, voted with their feet? Furthermore, the ranger walkabouts are not advertised beyond the LVRPA website, despite local people continually pointing out that the people most interested in working with the LVRPA to manage the marshes are most responsive to information about events if they stumble across it when they are out and about, and that more use must be made of the noticeboards on the marshes.

Since 2012 we have raised these matters with you on numerous occasions. Each time you have purported to agree with the points we raise, and have promised that things will change. Yet nothing changes for the better. The LVRPA seems more and more afraid of critical friends and a recent Freedom of Information request reveals that the LVRPA does not have a policy on consulting local users. Why is that? Local people have a wealth of knowledge and experience about the marshes – about mowing regimes, habitat management and the management of invasive species, for example – and they are desperate to share their expertise with the LVRPA. Why, then, does the the LVRPA continue to shun these offers of help, to actively discourage those who want to work alongside your organisation to secure the long-term sustainable future of the open green spaces that are so central to our health and well-being?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the LVRPA’s fear of scrutiny? After the Olympics, the LVRPA was given £73,000 to pay for ‘Leyton Marsh enhancement works’ and £75,000 to fund ’the final reinstatement works on Sandy Lane and ongoing management works on Leyton Marsh’. Local people were adamant that they should have a say in how this money was spent and the LVRPA appeared to agree, with the User Forum becoming the de facto decision-making body. And then the User Forum was disbanded. Local people are still trying to find out how the money they feel belongs to them, as compensation for what happened in 2012, has been spent and a summary of the situation can be found here: http://www.saveleamarshes.org.uk/2018/02/07/what-happened-to-our-money/

Local people, who value Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes, have always been open to repairing and improving their relationship with the LVRPA. We hope this email will be a catalyst for much-needed and long-awaited change.

With best wishes

Abigail Woodman and Vicky Sholund, on behalf of Save Lea Marshes

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2 Responses to Open Letter to LVRPA re Lack of Community Engagement

  1. Pingback: The LVRPA and community enagement | Save Lea Marshes

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